Tag: master’s

Nayeli Pineda

A Conversation with Nayeli Pineda

Nayeli Pineda, a C&IS master's candidate, gazes boldly ahead.
Photo credit: Matthew Wood, Strategic Communications

TUSCALOOSA, Ala., April 5, 2021 一 Nayeli Pineda adjusts her seat, smiles and folds her hands in her lap. Even after a year of practice, it’s hard to overcome the awkwardness of video calls. I greet her and ask how she’s doing. She’s well. Work’s been tough lately, but she’s hanging in there. I ask where she works, and she tells me she has three jobs, mostly food service; she’ll have to quit them once her internship starts. We commiserate shortly about businesses reopening before she changes the subject. A journalist herself, Nayeli admits she’s having a hard time understanding why someone might interview her. I tell her that, from where I’m sitting, the reason is clear.

Six months ago, Nayeli was just Nayeli: a Birmingham (Hoover) native, daughter of Mexican immigrants, working multiple jobs to support her education and make ends meet. She wasn’t a scholarship student or academic award winner; she was neither an athlete nor an entrepreneur. But today, she is a rising star in entertainment media. Her resourcefulness and work ethic had allowed her to overcome racial and financial hurdles, earn a seat in UA’s prestigious Communications and Information Sciences graduate program and help the Latinx community overcome COVID-19. And recently, her tenacity had landed her an internship on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. 

As we talk, my eyes wander, surveying Nayeli’s room. Aside from a couple houseplants, which wind themselves wabi-sabi along her windowsill, her bedroom is well-kempt. Her bed is made, the floor is clean. I spot a couple books on the shelf. It’s clear Nayeli doesn’t spend much time here. This room is for resting, working and little else.

“You okay with me recording?” I ask, standard procedure for interviews.

“Of course,” she says, then she laughs. “Just don’t let me say something wrong or unflattering.” 

I note the thoughtful cadence of her speech. “Just be yourself,” I say. 

I press record on the Zoom call, and Nayeli sees the red light in the corner of her screen. Her shoulders heave as she takes a deep breath.

“Where should I begin?” she asks. 

“Let’s start from the top and see where it takes us.” 

“Okay.” She takes another breath and thinks for a moment. “My parents always told us we needed to go to college, so there was no way my brother and I weren’t going to go. I chose The University of Alabama because it was the best choice for an in-state education.”

Though she loved UA, Nayeli had to leave school for personal and financial reasons. But nothing could keep her from earning a degree and building a better life for her family. She was determined to return. 

“Leaving was difficult,” she says. “It was like, ‘Okay, you’ve got to pick yourself back up and do this.’ I had no safety net, and failing wasn’t an option, so I buckled down and got to work.

“I had no safety net,” Nayeli says. “And failing wasn’t an option, so I buckled down and got to work.”

“When I returned my sophomore year, I was much more focused. I was a semester behind, but working had given me a drive I’d never felt before. I was an adult. I knew how a bank account and credit card worked, and I knew how to pay things off. I knew how much school cost, how much I needed to save and how much I needed for a tax refund the next year. I budgeted meticulously because I knew there was no way I was leaving until I had my degree. I needed stability, and I wasn’t stopping until I’d earned it.”

Nayeli returned to UA and majored in political science, with a focus in gender and race issues, and later double majored in English. Throughout, she continued to work multiple jobs while taking fall, spring and summer classes. Her job in the creative media office is what set her on her path toward journalism.

“I built relationships with the faculty. Dr. Armstrong, my current chair, looked through some of my research articles and saw a future for me in entertainment media. While I had originally planned on applying to the Law School or women and gender studies, she nudged me toward journalism and creative media. I applied, was accepted and started my master’s right after graduation.

“I needed stability, and I wasn’t stopping until I’d earned it.”

“Grad school is different from undergrad and completely different from what I thought it was going to be. Though my writing had gotten better in undergrad, my English professors had done a great job building me up and making me better, it was nothing compared to what my professors expected from me in JCM. I felt like an imposter. ‘I don’t really deserve to be here,’ I thought. ‘I don’t have any journalistic experience.’ Like, we had a guy who was published in The New York Times. I couldn’t compare to that. But I connected with Dr. Meredith Cummings, director of the Alabama Scholastic Press Association, and became her assistant. Then I met Keli Stiglich, and she helped me get published. 

“Lately, I’ve been into helping others. ASPA helps high school students find niches and passions that they didn’t know they had. And honestly, it lit a fire in me that I didn’t know I had. Working with Dr. Cummings has been very rewarding. It makes sense.” 

Nayeli’s history and passion for helping others led her to the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), a community development and advocacy organization that champions economic equality, civic engagement and social justice for Latinx and immigrant families in Alabama.

“They do a lot for Hispanics in Birmingham,” she says. “Right now, they’re helping with COVID-19 vaccinations; they do site runs and donate food. During the height of COVID, they started paying bills for the community, and I enjoyed being part of that. While I was there, I was a policy research intern. I looked into language access legislation in southern states. Right now, they’re trying to introduce something that helps with language access. Alabama isn’t doing a very good job, and I’ve been doing preliminary research to help move the legislature along. 

“I returned to ¡HICA! During fall 2020 to help with financial aid workshops. I remember my FAFSA being difficult, so I wanted to help Hispanic high school students and parents who had never done it before. I’m still in touch with some of them.

“While that experience was rewarding, it did make me want to branch into entertainment media. Helping people with paperwork is great, but awareness reaches a lot more people.

“For me, it’s always been about diversifying the media industry. I’ve always wanted to do that; it’s always been my dream.”

“Looking back, everything I’ve done has centered around amplifying others; getting messages out from people who need more personified voices. For me, it’s always been about diversifying the media industry. I’ve always wanted to do that; it’s always been my dream. 

“With that in mind, I’ve always applied to big companies — dream jobs, you know, for fun. I’ve applied to WarnerMedia, NBC, Lionsgate, you name it. I’ve always done it and never heard anything back. It wasn’t until this year that I actually got a reply. 

“By December 2020, I realized I hadn’t applied to anything in a while, so in January, I figured I’d give it one last shot. After two years of silence, I figured it just wasn’t going to happen. I applied to two companies, NBC Universal and WarnerMedia, but I applied to 60 different positions.

“I’m kind of private about that stuff, so when I didn’t hear anything for a while, no one knew about it. I didn’t even tell my parents because I didn’t want them to get excited or worry about it. I don’t know if it’s a Hispanic parents’ thing, but they’ll get on you,” she laughs. “I did tell my brother about it, though. He’s a JCM major here, focusing on film studies, and I told my boyfriend and best friend. But that was it. 

“The late night one, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, was actually the first place I applied. So I was shocked when someone finally called me and even more shocked when I kept advancing.”

Despite being nervous, Pineda aced her interview and was offered a position. But she kept the news to herself at first, trying to process the achievement.

I guess I still didn’t think it was going to happen. I didn’t tell my parents until after I posted it on LinkedIn, and it started blowing up. 

“It’s all been very surreal. That world is just so unobtainable for people like me. I don’t have any connections; I don’t know anyone. The only things I’ve heard from people who work in the industry are stuff like, ‘my uncle has a job there’ or ‘my dad has a friend.’ I’ve never thought of myself as someone who belongs among those people.”

“But you do,” I say.

“Yeah,” she says. Nayeli looks down at her keyboard, and I realize this is the first moment she’s had to reflect. She smiles. “I guess so.”

Tenacious. Dedicated. Unshakeable. Despite all odds, Nayeli’s passion and determination have earned her financial freedom and a chance to leave a lasting impact. Facing any number of similar obstacles, most would give up. But not Nayeli. For her, adversity is an opportunity – not only to prove herself but to amplify her community and honor her family. And that’s what makes her worthy of an interview. 

Online Graduate Nursing Programs Advance the Field

While many higher education programs are diligently working toward a successful move to online delivery, some of The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing’s graduate programs, coordinated with Bama By Distance, are already well-established in the space, supporting online programs since 1999. UA’s graduate nursing programs provide stellar academic training to working professionals across the Southeast in a format that allows for participation around the demands of an active career and personal life.

Master of Science in Nursing, Nurse Administrator Concentration

Dionne Brady has the flexibility with her graduate program and work to take a meaningful vacation with her family.
Dionne Brady and her family visited Disney, fall 2019, to celebrate a birthday.

Dionne Brady, a nursing graduate student based in Tennessee, loves learning. It’s a trait she hopes her children pick up from her. With 15 years of nursing practice to spur her on, Dionne is pursuing her third degree, a master’s in nursing with an emphasis on administration. She’s developing leadership skills to make herself more marketable in the field and standout among her peers as she elevates her career through greater pay and regular hours.

Before enrolling at the University, Dionne performed extensive research to explore available programs across several schools. She was looking for an online program attached to a physical school with a strong reputation. She wanted to continue to work full time while keeping her husband and children top priorities, so a strong work/life balance was essential. Once the first two criteria were met, she narrowed her selection to The University of Alabama for its affordability and customizable program.

Dionne is now in her third semester and steadily moving toward her goals. While she may be a distance-learner in Tennessee, Dionne remains involved on UA’s campus, serving as a Graduate Nursing Student Ambassador and enjoying the cultural community through online participation.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The flexibility of online learning allows Kerry Varner time to coach soccer for his son.
Kerry Varner and his family celebrate a soccer win. Kerry has time to coach around his work and class schedule.

Attending The University of Alabama is a dream come true for Andalusia-resident Kerry Varner. A lifelong fan of the Crimson Tide, Kerry’s enthusiasm for carries to the Capstone College of Nursing. “I chose UA for its phenomenal reputation. It really is a prestigious university and college,” stated Kerry.

A full-time nurse anesthetist, husband and father/soccer coach to his two small children, Kerry was also looking for affordability and flexibility in an advanced program that would help him with his goal to “move the profession forward” while being involved in his kids’ activities. As a member of the college’s strategic planning committee, Kerry is able to be an influential member of UA’s nursing community, representing students in meetings with the dean and instructors.

Kerry admits he was intimidated by the thought of online classes in the beginning, but he caught on quickly. Now in his final semester of his program, Kerry expects to carry the momentum of his education forward into his career, pushing advancement and research one patient at a time.

Excellence in Teaching and Service

Dionne and Kerry cite the availability and responsiveness of their professors over and over again. Displaying more than professional courtesy, the Capstone College of Nursing’s faculty are involved with their students, closing the distance of online learning to become valued mentors of their profession.

For more information about graduate programs in UA’s Graduate School, visit graduate.ua.edu/prospective-students.

Sharniece Holland, an alumna of UA's Graduate School, poses on Washington University campus, St. Louis, Missouri.

Involvement Builds Sharniece Holland’s Success

Sharniece Holland, an alumna of UA's Graduate School, poses on Washington University campus, St. Louis, Missouri.
Sharniece Holland, now a professor at Washington University, earned her master’s and doctoral degrees at The University of Alabama.

Sharniece Holland is a proven leader who demonstrates driven tenacity toward her goals – academically and professionally.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Sharniece first moved to Alabama to attend the HBCU Alabama State University, where she led multiple student organizations on her way to a Bachelor of Science in mathematics (2010). Immediately after graduation, she moved 100 miles north to take on a yearlong mathematics master’s program at The University of Alabama. 

Somehow graduate school wasn’t what she was expecting though. Knowing she wouldn’t be in Tuscaloosa long, Sharniece stuck to her studies. Though she really enjoyed UA, she readily admits her struggle came down to one condition. “I wasn’t prepared the first time for graduate school.”

In a hurry to begin her career, Sharniece took the most direct path to graduation, missing her opportunity to grow and explore. She completed her master’s in 2011, taking her first job as an English and math teacher in South Korea. With her added experience, Sharniece stepped into an adjunct position at a St. Louis tech school when she returned.

After two years at the tech school, Sharniece was restless. She had peaked where she was at and was looking for ways to make herself more marketable and increase her job options.

Confiding her frustrations to a friend, a physics student at UA, Sharniece dug to the root of what she loved most about math, realizing she enjoys utilizing math to solve much bigger projects. To her friend, the solution was obvious; Sharniece needed to switch her focus to materials science.

With more wisdom and experience, Sharniece returned to The University of Alabama as a materials science doctoral student with the resolve to make the most of her time on campus. “When I came back to UA, I was more ready,” Sharniece says. “I enjoyed my department, my advisor. I was more involved, and it really enriched my experience.”

“As a student, I wanted to be able to have an impact on my university,” Sharniece stated. And she did, first joining Tide Together, a peer mentoring program dedicated to helping underrepresented students build personal and professional connections. During her second tenure at UA, she also served as a graduate ambassador, a Graduate Council student representative and the president of the African American Graduate Student Association.

Sharniece’s efforts were not unnoticed. Her research secured funding from several national sources, including The Southern Regional Education Board Dissertation Scholar Fellowship, Alabama NASA EPSCoR Graduate Research Scholars Program, The National Science Foundation: Bridge to Doctorate Fellowship and The National Science Foundation: Alabama Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program Scholarship.

The funding, programs and faculty guidance propelled Sharniece toward her vision. “Drs. Lin Li and Viola Acoff were very helpful and invested in my future. This school will work just as hard for you as you work. It really supported me.”

Now Dr. Holland, Sharniece is back in St. Louis, teaching in the Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science Department at Washington University, a position recommended to her by Dr. Li.

“The doctorate helped me land the job,” Sharniece says. “Campus activities gave me knowledge, and the Graduate School empowered me through funding and experience.”

Ready to find out how you can be involved at The University of Alabama? Apply today: graduate.ua.edu/prospective-students/apply-now/

UA graduate students and Black Warrior Review editors Mark Galaritta and Jackson Saul sit with recent copies of the Black Warrior Review journal at a table in the BWR office located in the basement of Gallaway Theater.

Black Warrior Review Receives Prestigious Grant

UA graduate students and Black Warrior Review editors Mark Galaritta and Jackson Saul sit with recent copies of the Black Warrior Review journal at a table in the BWR office located in the basement of Gallaway Theater.
UA graduate students and the 2019 Black Warrior Review editors Mark Galarrita and Jackson Saul sit with recent copies of the Black Warrior Review journal.

“The Black Warrior Review is a Southern journal,” says 2019’s Managing Editor Jackson Saul. “It’s always been a Southern journal. Even if the writers are not Southern, they find a home in the South.”

This hospitality is what sets The Black Warrior Review (BWR) apart from its peers since its founding in 1974. Despite being the oldest continuously run graduate literary journal in the United States, BWR and its staff are unfazed by romantic notions of custom or heritage. Instead, BWR nudges Southern literature forward, viewing the Southern experience through unconventional lenses. It gives voice to minorities, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ and others who struggle to find a platform to be heard from. These voices are unconventional, unapologetic and incredibly moving.

BWR receives continued refreshment each year, due largely to the annual turnover with an entirely new student editorial staff each year. A new staff continues to keep the journal’s focus fresh with new ideas.

The BWR editorial class of 2018, led by Cat Ingrid Leeches, completed the application and groundwork that resulted in receiving the 2019 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize – a print development grant that covers $5,000 per year for up to three years. While several BWR-featured writers have won awards in the past, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this is the first time the journal has received a national commendation.

“Receiving this award is a confirmation of what others have already known about us,” stated Saul.

In 2019, the staff heightened its commitment to excellence. Saul and his colleague, Editor Mark Galarrita, have already outlined their plan for the publication.

“In the coming years, we will use the grant to increase sales and improve the journal,” says Saul. “We have hired an online editor and waived the submissions fee – which we think will lead to better content and a larger pool of work.”

Already known for setting the career course for rising writers, BWR can now afford an additional online volume to continue to elevate the voices of marginalized writers and find new risk-taking work.

“I want to be on the right side of history,” says Galarrita. “This is our chance to get the story right and reach an all-new audience. It’s time the world heard about the real South – the South you don’t see in the media.”

Issue 46.1 of the Black Warrior Review is currently on sale. To submit work for the next issue, visit bwr.ua.edu.

The Black Warrior Review is sponsored by the MFA Program in Creative Writing and is produced through the work of graduate research assistants in the department. The University of Alabama’s Creative Writing MFA is one of two 4-year programs in the United States; many students take advantage of the fourth year to write extensive theses, pursue a second master’s degree or gain additional teaching experience.

For more information, including application submission dates and program requirements, contact the program director, Professor Wendy Rawlings. If you’re ready to apply, contact the Graduate School.

Julio Gomez, a Colombian graduate student at The University of Alabama

Student Spotlight: Julio Gomez found his place at UA – twice

Julio Gomez, a Colombian graduate student at The University of Alabama
Julio Gomez, a graduate student from Columbia, stands in front of Graves Hall, home of the College of Education.

Julio Gomez never intended to leave his home in Bogotá, Colombia, and certainly not for two advanced degrees. At 37 years old, Julio, having completed most of his coursework through a UA College of Education extension program in Bogotá, left his home for The University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.

Julio’s face conveys the struggle he felt coming to the U.S. “It was challenging to leave my country for the first time, but I’m so happy to have done it. I saw the University as important in the States. It was a really strong research university.”

After graduating with his master’s in secondary education, Julio returned to Colombia to resume his previous teaching role at his university. It was good to be home, but he knew there was still more he could do at UA. “My master’s experience really made my decision to continue into my doctorate here. I never hesitated; this was the best place for me.”

That drive brought him back to campus within two years. This time, never having had the traditional “undergrad experience,” Julio chose to live in a residence hall. “It didn’t feel weird to be an older student on campus. It was a fresh picture of college life. You adjust and start engaging new things and opportunities. You build relationships.”

Julio’s tenacious spirit comes through when discussing what made him a successful student. For his part, he remains humble and grounded. “You have to be at a specific place in life in order to be successful at this. It was hard, and it was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it.”

Crediting the University with his success as a student, Julio cites the substantial opportunities for research and publication as well as exceptional leadership from his professors. “All of my professors were really knowledgeable. So many things that I learned from my professors, I do in my own classroom. It’s also about the networking that I wouldn’t have had if I had stayed at my home university for my doctorate. It helps me develop as a scholar, and it gives me a lot of confidence.”

He puts his words to practice with networking. He is currently working with a former UA classmate from China to develop research collaboration between their respective universities half-way around the world from each other. These UA alumni are evaluating and improving English teachers in both China and Colombia, a relationship they hope strengthens each of their universities and represents The University of Alabama well.

Are you ready to join Julio and our other rising legends? The future is yours. The place is UA.

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UA graduate student profile

Student Spotlight: Christine Bassett

UA graduate student profile
Christine Bassett, doctoral candidate and NOAA Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship finalist.

Christine Bassett, a doctoral student in The University of Alabama Department of Geological Sciences, recently received the prestigious recognition as a member of the 2020 class of NOAA Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship finalists. In the coming weeks, she will join fewer than 70 other students in Washington, D.C. to contribute their research and intellect to executive and legislative efforts toward climate change. The potential trajectory of this honor places Christine on a new path toward career success.

Christine completed two bachelor’s degrees, a Bachelor of Science in geology and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology, at the University of Georgia and thought a doctoral degree in anthropology was the direction she was headed. Christine was searching for a graduate program to help her make the greatest impact in understanding climate change and its effects on people. Her UGA adviser recognized the same drive he had seen in a previous student – Dr. Fred Andrus, a geology professor at The University of Alabama.

She gave Dr. Andrus a call. “We both knew instantly it was a good fit. Dr. Andrus explained his research that had just received a National Science Foundation grant, and they needed a grad student to do the dirty work of digging clams and processing shells in the lab.”

butter clam shell isotope sampling
Christine points to a sample area of nearly 30 separate drillings that mark a season’s growth in this cross section of a butter clam shell.

Relocating to Tuscaloosa, Christine pursued her master’s and doctorate in geology with steady determination and proof of success. She combines anthropology and geology to connect the past with what people are experiencing now due to climate change. “Anthropology looks at broad swaths of time as periods around 100 years or more. Geology lets me view seasonal microscale changes.”

She views those seasonal changes in the growth lines on butter clam and abalone shells. In order to retrieve the shells, Christine first had to secure her diving certification with an additional cold water specialty, not a common requirement for most graduate research. Her research includes the Unalaska Sea Ice Project, performing isotopic analysis on ancient clams found in archaeological middens (historical trash heaps). From the shells, she is able to extract sea surface temperatures and chemical make-up of the water the ancient clams lived in, developing a better understanding of how the animals and people of the Aleutian Islands adapted to a changing climate and forecasting how people might respond in the future.

paleoclimatology research through abalone shells
Christine holds an abalone shell collected from the Channel Islands.

While butter clams may be the shell of her start, Christine is furthering her research scope further south in the Pacific Ocean to the Channel Islands off of California’s southern coast. There, she is performing similar geochemical analysis on abalone shells, the iridescent shell often used for jewelry and buttons. Her analysis is a breakthrough development for scientists to better understand seasonal, local climate change through rising water levels and temperatures and their effect on abalone populations, continuing to paint a more robust picture.

“The story is that the research of these shells is needed to understand how the Pacific Ocean has aged and varied over 10,000 years across two localities. People who live along the coast, the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico, they already feel climate change and they know it. People in the interior don’t realize how oceanic changes affect their daily lives. I want them to be able to see for themselves.”

Christine won UA’s 2017 Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, presenting her research thesis with catching storytelling palatable for any audience. In Spring 2019, she was named a 2019 American Geophysical Union’s Voices for Science advocate, no doubt leading to the Knauss Fellowship. The fellowship is a competitive process that included several rounds of interviews through the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium before review by a national panel of experts. 

“This made the blood, sweat and tears feel like it actually paid off,” sighed Christine. “Never give up. If you really want it, you find a way. I was rejected at first, but I asked for feedback and applied it, adjusting my application and research proposal to fit. I reapplied, and I’m here.”

Are you ready to join Christine and our other rising legends? The future is yours. The place is UA.

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